More than half (55 percent) of all of online American youths ages 12 to 17 use online social networking sites, according to a new national survey of teenagers conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.
The survey found that older teens, particularly girls, are more likely to use these sites. For girls, social networking sites are primarily places to reinforce pre-existing friendships; for boys, the networks also provide opportunities for flirting and making new friends.
The Pew Internet Project is an initiative of the Pew Research Center that produces reports exploring the impact of the internet on children, families, communities, the work place, schools, health care, and civic/political life.
A social networking site is an online place where a user can create a profile and build a personal network that connects him or her to other users.
In the past five years, such sites have rocketed from a niche activity into a phenomenon that engages tens of millions of Internet users.
The explosive growth in the popularity of these sites has generated concerns among some parents, school officials and government leaders about the potential risks posed to young people when personal information is made available in such a public setting.
The data memo, written by Amanda Lenhart and Mary Madden, senior research specialists at Pew, is based on a survey conducted by telephone from Oct. 23 through Nov. 19, 2006, among a national sample of 935 youths ages 12 to 17.
The survey asked about the ways that teenagers use social networking sites and their reasons for doing so.
Among the key findings:
- 55 percent of online teens have created a personal profile online, and 55 percent have used social networking sites like MySpace or Facebook;
- 66 percent of teens who have created a profile say that their profile is not visible to all Internet users;
- 48 percent of teens visit social networking Web sites daily or more often; 26 percent visit once a day, and 22 percent visit several times a day;
- Older girls ages 15 to 17 are more likely to have used social networking sites and created online profiles; 70 percent of older girls have used an online social network compared with 54 percent of older boys, and 70 percent of older girls have created an online profile, while only 57 percent of older boys have done so.
Teens say social networking sites help them manage their friendships, according to the survey.
In fact, it found that 91 percent of all social networking teens say they use the sites to stay in touch with friends they see frequently, while 82 percent use the sites to stay in touch with friends they rarely see in person.
The survey also found that 72 percent of all social networking teens use the sites to make plans with friends and 49 percent use the sites to make new friends.
In addition, older boys who use social networking sites (ages 15 to 17) are more likely than girls of the same age to say that they use social networking sites to make new friends (60 percent versus 46 percent).